Popular Indian comedy group All India Bakchod, commonly referred to as AIB, created a rather excellent music video earlier this year starring Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut. AIB released ‘The Bollywood Diva Song’ in September to their more than six million followers on twitter; to date it has has received over seven million views. The ‘diva’ song is a parody of the famed original ‘Chitiyaan Kaliyaan Re’ sung by Punjabi singer Kanika Kapoor and performed on screen by Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez in the Bollywood movie Roy (2015).
In AIB’s version of the song, writers Manaswi, Supriya and Anuya Jakatdar have replaced the lyrics ‘chitiyaan kaalayaan re’ with the poignant words ‘cause I have vagina re’. Witty, hilarious and sarcastic, the revised version of this song had women using the hashtag #CauseIHaveVaginaRe to air their experiences of sexism while in celebration and acknowledgment of the song.
As an actress and celebrity, Kangana Ranaut seldom, if ever, shy’s away from airing her opinions and clarifications on the issues which matter to her most. From her personal experiences with men, her political views as a feminist or her thoughts on Bollywood, Kangana is an actress unlike any in the industry. Just when we think we have seen or heard plenty from Kangana Ranaut, she somehow manages to remind us that her voice and presence will always be there in an industry that often partakes in questionable practices. Constantly seen as a woman working against the grain (which can embody many a thing in Bollywood as eloquently iterated in AIB’s video) this is one actress we either love to love or love to hate. The former is perhaps more of an accurate assessment than the latter. Young audiences adore this lady, she embodies ‘that’ badass woman who fights through societal norms, challenges Indian patriarchy, whilst keeping her crown intact and we quite simply cannot get enough of her.
Let’s not forget that this is the actress who publicly called one of the major Bollywood film producers and filmmakers Karan Johar ‘the flagbearer of nepotism’ and ‘the movie mafia’ to his face, in an interview on his own show, Koffee with Karan.
Furthermore, her very public court battle with “alleged” ex-partner and her former co-actor Hrithik Roshan has earnt Kangana the ‘badass’ underdog status for speaking up on issues such as break-ups and their effects in society. It was no surprise then that AIB chose Kangana as the star for their music video, an experience the writers told me they thoroughly enjoyed.
In her interview with me, Manaswi candidly discusses why AIB decided on the subject matter of nepotism in Bollywood, feminism, sexism, the song ‘chitiyaan kaaliyaan’ and why they chose to address these issues with arguably, one of India’s most examined actresses of our time, Kangana Ranaut.
We felt this was an important video for us to put out, because Bollywood’s such a big part of our lives and it impacts so many people and reflects in all their attitudes, including people’s attitudes towards women. And apart from the way the women are portrayed, the workplace discrimination they face (glass ceiling, wage gap, the works) are all topics very close to our hearts. Kangana was a total rock-star in doing this with us, calling out the whole industry in which you have to work can understandably be scary for a lot of female actors.
Also, fun fact, in the original song, the actress’ character is an Indie film director who makes artsy films, but then randomly breaks into a routine “tu le aade mainu golden jhumke” (asking the hero to buy her gold jewellery) because she has “white wrists” (WTF is that fetish? I cannot even).
To address one question that we’ve been getting asked A LOT. Why “Vagina”?
I think we just wanted to boil the argument to its most fundamental form. Men have penises and women have vaginas, and everything in a woman’s life, whether it being paid lesser at work, or not being allowed to work at all, every elaborate form and justification of patriarchy across industries and across cultures is actually just because difference of one body part. And that’s how ridiculous the whole thing actually is.
I remember, when we cracked the chorus and sang it to our writer’s room, the laugh came from this line – and wasn’t even a joke! It was just the shock value of someone saying Vagina out loud when there is so much taboo around the word. And this doesn’t just happen in India. I was at London for this panel discussion recently, and this was a fairly liberal circle. And I said the word Vagina in some context, and there was this huge gasp that came from the room. And later a whole bunch of people came up to me to say “I can’t believe that you just said that word on stage.”
So yeah, we just wanted to normalise the term, really. Which is why, though normally in a parody song we’d avoid repetition, because we want to throw in more jokes, in this we just repeated the chorus till the person listening to it, boy or girl, could just sing “cause I have vagina re” and not be irked by it in anyway.
That’s pretty much what we had in mind. And if this makes even a few people Lol and if we’re lucky, a few film makers make better films without a random shot of a woman’s waist, I think we’ve done what we set out to do.
On the eve of 2018, we have the release of Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi to look forward to in the new year starring Kangana Ranaut. The film is about Rani Lakshmibai, a leading figure of the Indian Rebellion in the 18th century and her resistance to the British Raj. It will be interesting to see how Kangana’s star persona develops in her new film and the social issues she gets us to think about in the new year.